Scotland quits smoking

One for the “utterly predictable” file: the Scottish Executive has made its decision on a smoking ban, and has decided to implement a complete ban on smoking in public places by the spring of 2006, with fines of £1,000 for anyone who defies the ban (and fines of up to £3,600 and the loss of their drinks licence for publicans who let people smoke on their premises).

While I’m generally in favour of a ban (with some exemptions) I still think it’s a black (lung) day for democracy; the consultation was horrifically biased and surveys (from both sides of the debate) suggest that the number of people against an outright ban is between 50% and 77%. The Glasgow Herald reported that a survey carried out *on behalf of the executive* found that there was a split of 70-30 against an outright ban – but as the Scottish Executive put it, “Scotland’s health record meant it was not acceptable to simply wait for public opinion to catch up.” In other words, you didn’t vote for this, we don’t have a mandate to do this, but we know what’s best for you and you’d bloody well better do what we say.

In a rather ironic postscript, prisoners will still be allowed to smoke in their cells. As the tories put it, criminals will be able to smoke but smokers will become criminals.

It’s all a bit of a mess. The police have made it crystal clear that they don’t want to be charged with enforcing a ban, on the – perfectly reasonable – grounds that they’ve got enough proper crimes to deal with. Which leaves it to the councils, who have some interesting ideas. According to The Herald:

Dundee City Council’s reply suggested that such a ban could be extended. “In due course, consideration on introducing smoking bans could be extended to external covered public areas such as sports stadiums,” the document stated. “Also consideration should be given to banning smoking in private motor vehicles where children are present”.
Aberdeen City Council has raised the prospect of smoking spies, after councillors voiced concerns about the cost of policing the ban: “Gathering the necessary evidence of any offence could be very difficult and time-consuming,” said the response. “It is likely to require an element of covert surveillance and a large proportion of work involved undertaken outside normal working hours.”

Things are different in England. As the Evening Standard reports:

Strong opposition among Londoners to an outright smoking ban has led the Government to propose compromise plans for the country. Health Secretary John Reid will seize on a recent Mori poll for the Mayor of London showing that just 42 per cent of the public backed a total ban in bars and pubs, the Evening Standard has learned.

As Colin Wilkinson of the Scottish Licensed Trades Association told The Sunday Times:

You have to ask, is this another poll tax situation where Scotland becomes the guinea pig again?

Update, 11 Nov

The Herald reports that even the Scottish Executive’s consulation didn’t come out in favour of an outright ban: “The move follows the executive’s largest ever public consultation, to which more than 52,000 people and 1000 groups and businesses responded. However, only 45% favoured a total ban, and 28% thought there should be exemptions if a law was introduced, chiefly for pubs. “